Tag Archives: Butte

Butte History

RED LODGE POST

No conversation about Montana history is finished without talking about Carl Rowan (1909 – 1996). Mr. Rowan was the owner and chief cook and bottle washer of Gamer’s Café in the city of Butte from 1944 until 1993, when he finally retired and sold the restaurant.

Carl Rowan
Carl Rowan at Gamer’s Cafe, 1958, Butte, Mont. Photo (Smithers, 0502102) courtesy Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.

Over that stretch of time Mr. Rowan likely met every person in Butte, and, for that matter, a huge swath of the citizens of Montana and points beyond. Guests entering Gamer’s Café were always greeted by the man himself, even before an order was placed. You can meet a ton of people over a lifetime, a few are memorable, most are not. Mr. Rowan falls in the former.

On a typical morning at the restaurant in the early 1990s, Carl took your order and served the meal. This was out of necessity since Carl was the only person on duty to take care of customers. By this time, Carl was 83 years old. But nothing slowed him down. He was on the job every day.

During his later years at Gamer’s, business was often slow on many days. Why? It is hard to say. On the plus side, with so few customers around, Carl always had lots of time to chat with customers. The Chief of the local division of the Montana Highway Patrol came in regularly. He likely knew that Carl’s days in the restaurant business were coming to an end. Anyway, the two men, one middle-aged, and Carl, now old, bonded. Other customers shared a close relationship with Carl, as well.

This was Carl, a friend of everyone. Noticing his big smile and cheerful disposition, customers could tell Mr. Rowan thrived on relationships. Not the fleeting kind but always enduring and so human and genuine.

Some may suggest that Mr. Rowan was a little on the eccentric side. More likely, Carl’s behavior can be understood as a reflection of his zeal for showmanship. Take for example, a common business practice in his restaurant. After Carl presented a customer with the check, the customer, if a regular, knew the next step in the process to complete the transaction. With Carl at some distance away behind the counter, the customer was expected to march to the cash register on the far end of the counter, open the cash drawer, make the correct change, and deposit the amount due. An honor system such as this could only survive in Carl Rowan’s world, Butte.

Carl likely heard a zillion stories from locals over his many years in the restaurant business. On one day, in the winter of 1992, a not so regular dropped in to share with Carl a photograph taken near the end of WWII in Italy. The elderly man from Butte, a veteran, was in Italy in 1945 and saw what had happened in the chaos in northern Italy at the end of the war. A photo no one would ever show to children for sure.

Every story has an element of mystery. Butte-Silver Bow had around 33,000 residents in the early 1990s. Yet, few showed up to dine at Gamer’s Café at least on weekday mornings during the fall and winter months. Why did Carl stay so long in Butte? He had talent and charisma that would have taken him far in other larger cities? Still, Carl stayed and was undaunted and satisfied. He enjoyed his job and above all he loved every customer who entered the front door of Gamer’s.

Nowhere is it recorded how many people showed up for Mr. Rowan’s funeral on a crisp fall morning in late October of 1996. Looking back on that day, if they did not go, they missed an opportunity to say a final farewell to a man who gave so much of himself to so many. Butte can be proud to claim Mr. Carl Rowan as a favorite son.

John Sandy
Absaroka Mountain, Mont.
August 2020

Mineral Museum in Butte

RED LODGE POST

Montana has lots of marvelous attractions, many so interesting. The Mineral Museum operated by the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology on the campus of Montana Tech in Butte, Montana is a must see.

The museum claims to “amaze and inspire.” This statement coveys so much about a place that is even much more. The numerous exhibits at the Mineral Museum offer a window into the science and beauty of rocks and minerals.

The crown jewel at the Mineral Museum is a 27.5 ounce gold nugget, officially named The Highland Centennial Gold Nugget, discovered in the mountains a few years ago near Butte. The museum staff are also especially proud of a large smoky quartz cluster. Measuring two feet in diameter, it’s called The Rheanna Star.

The Mineral Museum is an international collection as specimens come from many parts of the world. A large amethyst quartz geode is from Brazil, for example. As an added attraction, the Mineral Museum has a small collection of dinosaur bones. Over many years, museum staff have amassed a collection of around 13,000 specimens, acquired by donation and other support.

The museum has a gift shop on site. Visitors can buy gifts from a wide selection of rocks and minerals. If you can imagine, admission is FREE.

Hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily during the summer months, June 15 – September 15. Winter hours, open on Wednesdays, only.

You don’t have to be a naturalist to appreciate the displays found here. Here’s a chance to see minerals as they exist in nature. A few exhibits will help you understand and appreciate gems stones you may own for jewelry. There’s very high public interest in this museum, some 42% of visitors are from out-of-state. So impressive.

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Copyright © 2020 John Sandy